TRAFFIC NEWS

Road safety public information films from the 1960s are less heavy on the horror quota that terrified people into doing as they were told in the 70s; what one notices more than anything when watching monochrome pedestrians approach the edge of the kerb is the ironic emphasis on looking both ways for traffic when there actually isn’t any at all. Most of these shorts appear to have been shot on a Sunday morning judging by the number of cars passing by, and the absence of stationary vehicles lining the side of the pavement is a greater pointer to a different world than the sight of short pants or the black & white cinematography.

The gradual increase in car usage that characterised the end of wartime petrol rationing necessitated road safety being the most recurring topic of the early public information films; hand-in-hand with this growing awareness came improvements to official crossings for pedestrians to try to prevent them making their own way from one side of the road to the other and having to dodge traffic in the process. The first attempt at this was the Zebra crossing, which debuted in 1951, when there were two million registered cars on the roads. They were usually accompanied by Belisha beacons, which had been a regular street fixture since 1935, and the system reached its most notable worldwide exposure via the sleeve of ‘Abbey Road’.

The Highway Code specifies that motorists have to give way to pedestrians at a Zebra crossing, but some ignored the rule then as now; by just the first half of 1960, when registered car ownership had shot up to ten million, 533 pedestrians were either killed or injured at Zebra crossings, prompting a new solution by the Ministry of Transport. The ‘Panda crossing’ arrived in 1962 and was the first to have a pedestrian-level push-button system attached to the Belisha beacons, with instructions reading ‘Wait’ and then ‘Cross’; the design on the actual surface of the road was coloured the same as the Zebra crossings, but consisted of elongated triangles. The newcomer proved confusing for both pedestrians and motorists, and the unsatisfactory Panda crossing was phased out at the end of the 60s.

The successor to the Panda crossing, and maintaining the curious tradition of naming these street landmarks after animals, was the Pelican crossing. This first appeared in 1969 and whilst retaining the push-button aspect of the Panda, the Pelican introduced the familiar static red man and walking green man – though he always resembled a fairly non-binary individual, to be honest. In the 70s, this far more successful system was even promoted on a public information film by the cast of ‘Dad’s Army’ – a curious combination considering Captain Mainwaring and his platoon were mysteriously transplanted thirty years into the future without any of them seemingly noticing the fact.

Bar a few technological adjustments, when it was reborn as the ‘Puffin crossing’ in the 1990s, the Pelican remains the standard system of pedestrian crossing in British towns and cities. Tinkering with technology has also been responsible for a small handful of failed experiments, such as the brief use of a recorded voice by a celebrity that was a variation on the now-commonplace female voice announcing ‘Caution! Two-way traffic’ (presumably an aid to the visually impaired). I swear I’m not making this up, but around ten years ago Leeds City Council tried this out, and whose trusted vocal tones came over the speakers informing pedestrians the moment had arrived to cross the road? Erm…Jimmy Savile.

Throughout the 60s and 70s, children were the prime pedestrian demographic at which road safety programmes were aimed, as demonstrated with the proliferation of lollipop ladies at school crossings, as well as the Tufty Club, the Kerb Drill and the Green Cross Code – though the latter’s use of a be-quiffed old rocker clad in black (Alvin Stardust) or a muscleman in a cape and tights (Dave Prowse) probably wouldn’t be welcomed by kids in today’s considerably queasier climate.

Interestingly, the focus has now largely shifted to the other end of the scale; a study commissioned five years ago revealed that elderly pedestrians were struggling to keep up with the brisk walking pace of the green man. 76% of men and 85% of women of pensionable age were failing to adhere to the recommended international pace of 4ft per second; the findings of the 2012 report stated the average walking pace for over-65s is 3ft per second for a man and 2.6ft per second for a woman; it takes between four and seven seconds before the green man begins flashing (naughty boy), cutting it a bit fine for the plodding pensioner.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) are recommending the period for crossing be extended a little, perhaps taking the more plentiful numbers of OAPs into account these days. Zebra crossings present even more of a challenge in that motorists who fail to stop for pedestrians or exercise their impatience by beeping their horns only face a £100 fine and the loss of three licence penalty points; some countries impose a fine of around £2,000. The rules do change slightly if a motorist fails to stop at a Zebra that is a school crossing point, however, with a potential fine of £1,000.

NICE also expressed concern at the pavement furniture that can be a potential problem for either elderly or disabled pedestrians, such as the awful eyesore of the bin parade. Maybe they should have gone a little further and included the infuriatingly annoying charity chuggers that make a habit of invading one’s personal space on the street. They could easily be replaced by the return of the old-school charity boxes featuring admittedly creepy (to a child, anyway) actual-size fibreglass models of disabled children or injured animals that were a regular sight of our streets until the Spastics Society was reborn as Scope and decided they were old hat. And on that subject…

© The Editor

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A FALL BEFORE PRIDE

One of a series of programmes spread across the television networks to mark the 1967 Sexual Offences Act’s fiftieth anniversary, ‘Against the Law’ was a drama-documentary that aired on BBC2 last night. It dramatised the infamous 1954 Montagu Trial, in which Lord Montagu, his cousin Michael Pitt-Rivers and journalist Peter Wildeblood were tried on charges of gross indecency and (to simplify matters) ‘buggery’; they were found guilty, with Montagu serving 12 months and the other two 18 months. The dramatised sections of the programme were interspersed with the recollections of gay men who were old enough to have been affected by the laws surrounding homosexuality as they then stood; and men were the exclusive targets of this law. Lesbianism was never illegal in this country.

These fascinating interludes could have been jarring intrusions into the drama, but actually served to strengthen it as their reminiscences gave the viewer a clearer idea of the parallel universe Britain they inhabited and the dangers of that parallel universe colliding with ‘straight society’. In the late 50s, there were more than a thousand men in British prisons serving sentences for ‘homosexual offences’, yet the police continued to make the arrest and prosecution of gay men a priority; the brutal medical treatments offered as a ‘cure’ for the condition mirrored the establishment line that this was a sickness within society and one it was the establishment’s place to eradicate.

However, what one appreciated yet again in watching this programme was the unique classlessness of the gay underworld in the pre-decriminalisation 50s and 60s, when a peer of the realm could mix and mingle with ‘the lower orders’ in a way that had few contemporary equivalents at the time. It could be argued that the establishment’s fear of this social melting pot – existing long before the over-ground breaking down of class barriers that took place in the Swinging decade – played no small part in the ruthless campaign against gay men that seemed to reach its apogee (or nadir) in the years after the war. The Profumo Scandal of 1963 exposed the hypocrisy and double-standards of the ruling class and was crucial in the death of deference, but the Montagu Trial was also significant in that it reflected the antiquated notion of social superiors ‘setting a good example’ (in public, at least); the outcome also demonstrated a distinct divergence of opinion on homosexuality between the classes.

The prosecution, with the full weight of the police force and the then-Home Secretary David Maxwell Fyfe behind it, imagined the case would unite the nation in revulsion as the trial of Oscar Wilde had sixty years previously; but the assault backfired. It emerged the police were pursuing Lord Montagu in a virtual vendetta; having failed to succeed in an earlier conviction, they may have achieved their aim in 1954, but many members of the general public couldn’t see why their taxes were being spent on locking up what were (in the phraseology of the time) ‘consenting adults in private’. The ramifications of the Montagu Trial led to the setting up of the Wolfenden Committee to look into the laws on homosexuality, and although it took a further decade before the Wolfenden recommendations were implemented in law, the ball had been set in motion.

With his private life made public during the trial, Peter Wildeblood decided there was little point in pretending anymore and openly admitted he was homosexual. Upon his release, he was interviewed by the Wolfenden Committee and aired his belief that his type of gay man should be the main beneficiary of reforms to the law – that is, the type seeking to conduct his business behind closed doors with a man over-21 without fear of prosecution and imprisonment. He made clear distinctions between the camp, effeminate queens, the pederasts and the ‘straight’ gay men like himself. It was to be the third group whose voices were loudest as the campaign to change the law gathered pace in the 60s, the thinking being that the public would accept the more ‘normal’ sort as convincing salesmen for the changes; and the majority within society gradually came round to this way of thinking, ending the ‘blackmailer’s charter’ at last.

When watching ‘Against the Law’, there were undoubted parallels evoked in relation to the police prioritising of this particular offence with the more recent and ongoing pursuit of ‘historical’ sex offenders. Just substitute ‘Pansy’ with ‘Paedo’. Jonathan King himself drew the same parallels when sentenced on charges of dubious authenticity in the first such high profile case of this nature fifteen or so years ago. Comparing his conviction to that of Oscar Wilde appeared a tad egocentric when the claim was made, though subsequent witch-hunts of old celebrities – and the persistent attempts to ‘get’ the ones that were cleared of charges by marching them back into court on new ones – seem to back-up King’s comparison. And, of course, we’re only aware of the famous names doing time for historical crimes.

The 1967 Sexual Offences Act didn’t change everything overnight, however. It may have enabled gay men of the Peter Wildeblood ilk to enter into happy, long-term relationships without having to conduct their affairs in the shadows, but the police continued to crack down on ‘cottaging’ well into the 1980s (especially via entrapment) and raids on gay bars, along with the lingering belief that youth remained susceptible to corruption, was memorably chronicled in Tom Robinson’s seminal protest song, ‘Glad to be Gay’ in the late 70s. As recent as the 90s, what would now be unimaginable language and anti-gay opinions were expressed in media circles, particularly the right-wing press; they must have viewed the onset of AIDS as a God-send to give credence to such beliefs.

Today we do indeed live in a very different kind of society to the one portrayed in ‘Against the Law’, but plenty of men are still imprisoned on charges of sexual offences that a politicised police force and an avaricious legal profession pursue with the same kind of crusading vindictiveness that gay men were once the target of. Indeed, with an estimated half of 2017’s court cases centred around sexual offences and the fastest growing age category in British prisons being the over-60s, there’s no reason to exhibit smugness at society’s supposedly more enlightened attitude towards what men do or don’t do with their willies.

© The Editor

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TIME’S ARROW

Who is the Prime Minister? Apparently, that’s one of the opening questions doctors use as a test for dementia amongst their patients, though most of the country would probably have struggled to answer it following the last General Election, to be honest. Anyway, I don’t know if my grandmother was asked that particular question during her last illness, but I do recall being told she couldn’t correctly say what year it was when asked. The ongoing debate over care for the elderly is, I’ve no doubt, largely motivated (on the public side, at least) by genuine concern that senior citizens are almost discarded as an expensive embarrassment; but I think it also reflects a consensus of fear over the fate that awaits us.

Larkin’s notorious poem, ‘The Old Fools’ is – as with his other most infamous offering, ‘This Be The Verse’ – often misconstrued; sometimes perceived as revulsion when confronted by the elderly, it couples lines such as ‘Ash hair, toad hands, prune face dried into lines’ with ‘Do they suppose it’s more grown-up when your mouth hangs open and drools, and you keep on pissing yourself, and can’t remember who called this morning?’ As with much of Larkin’s output, it is devoid of sentimentality and looks at an uncomfortable aspect of life with brutal honesty. The chilling closing line, when after having posed a series of questions on the topic of ageing, Larkin says ‘Well, we shall find out’, is a more accurate barometer of what the poem is actually saying.

A man not known for celebrating the joy of life, Larkin’s melancholic pessimism was present when he remained a relatively young man, something fairly unusual outside of Goth and Emo subculture; then again, Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters was aged just 29 when he wrote the wistfully bleak Larkin-esque line in ‘Time’ on ‘The Dark Side of the Moon’ – ‘Hanging on in quiet desperation is the English way’. Both Ray Davies and Morrissey have, at different times, contradicted the eternal adolescence that has been a hallmark of the genre they sprang from by shining a light on the neglected perspective of the elderly outsider, something Paul McCartney did even more successfully with ‘Eleanor Rigby’ before addressing ageing in a lighter tone with ‘When I’m 64’. He was in his mid-20s at the time.

At its most extreme, fear of growing old – at least manifested in its physical form – has led to the horrific cosmetic surgery industry and Hollywood’s plastic parade of deluded veterans that battle against the ageing process to extend their acting careers. Conversely, renowned actresses that have resisted the surgeon’s knife – such as Charlotte Rampling or Helen Mirren – tend to be celebrated for the fact their beauty has matured like fine wine and has been allowed to mature free from visible vanity courtesy of the same medical men who butchered the face of Michael Jackson.

Speaking to a friend the other day, she commented on some programme she’d seen on TV about a murder case in the 1990s; the documentary was accompanied by archive footage of the time, and even though the 90s feels extremely recent if you were actually there, she was still struck by how different things looked on said footage. The way in which technology has transformed all our lives in such a short space of time post-1999 has relegated certain sights that had always been commonplace on our streets to the same cultural landfill as gas lamps and public toilets, and I suspect those streets as represented by news archive of the time in this programme perhaps showed what already appears to be a different world.

I only have to cast my mind back twenty years to recall one of the numerous downsides to living in a neighbourhood with a sizeable student population was when the fresh intake of scholars needed to ring home after a week or so in their new homes. A queue of a good four or five people would be a familiar sight outside a telephone box in early September; but this is one of those ‘numerous downsides’ that has now completely vanished from the landscape – along with most of the phone boxes. Of course, to say ‘casting my mind back twenty years’ is in itself an admission of ageing that bears little relevance to the majority of the same university’s current crop, few of whom were a twinkle in the milkman’s eye twenty years ago – when we probably still had a few milkmen left.

In a sense, that’s part of the problem. I have been an official legal adult now for almost 32 years, and I find in my memory that everything I recall from that point onwards still doesn’t seem like that long ago. By contrast, anything from my childhood decade of the 70s feels incredibly distant and may as well be a hundred years ago for all the bearing it has had on my lengthy spell as an adult. At times, 1987, 1997 and 2007 appear almost interchangeable despite the superficial changes in fashion, music, pop culture et al that separate those years; I was an adult during all the years listed, and whilst I’d like to think a little acquired wisdom separates the person I was in 1987, 1997 or 2007, the core composition of the time-stream I inhabit doesn’t seem to have altered. It all feels ‘present tense’.

When we have family or friends we don’t see that often who sire offspring, we recall said offspring being babies; then we maybe see them again as toddlers or little kids; and the next occasion in which they’re mentioned, we learn they’re at high school or in higher education. In our heads, they remain frozen as children, but the rapid maturity that takes place elsewhere can remind us how time is passing more than what the mirror on the wall might tell us. Sometimes, it’s easier to measure time by the change in others than the change in our ourselves, which can be as difficult to observe as the movement of hands on a clock-face.

Four months from now I hit one of those ‘landmark birthdays’ that we all, whether we care to admit it or not, dread the arrival of. I guess we each have our own different take on what they do or don’t mean and if they hold any significance at all. For me personally it’s not a question of wanting to cling to a youth I didn’t especially enjoy or revel in, more a question of inevitable summarising of the story so far, the kind of self-assessment I’d rather avoid due to the fact that on paper I appear to have achieved nothing and have become everything I hate. Despite the anticipated bombardment of reminders I’ll receive from well-meaning well-wishers, the only real element worth celebrating is that I’ve actually made it this far. Being English, I expect I shall hang on, though I suspect the desperation won’t be so quiet; I remain determined to rage against that dying light. Thank God for a little bit of Celtic blood.

© The Editor

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SECOND CITY SOUNDS

As the late, great Barry Norman might have said (or maybe he didn’t): ‘And why not?’ This post marks no anniversary and comments on no particular current affair; it’s merely a bit of musical meandering; and it’s a Sunday, so why not indeed? Well, it’s no great surprise that when it comes to the musical map of Britain that London, Liverpool and Manchester generally tend to take the lion’s share of the plaudits and are largely given credit for putting this nation on Pop’s international stage, a position it continues to occupy, even if most of its reputation is built upon pioneers from half-a-century ago. But spare a thought for a corner of the country that, for me, is an unsung creative hub of far more than most imagine; it remains an unfashionable area to evoke in discourse on Pop culture, yet has provided those tuning into the Global Village’s radio station with so many listening riches over the last few decades that it seems an apt time to make a case for the Midlands.

In the early 60s, Birmingham had perhaps the most active live music scene outside of Merseyside; there were hundreds of bands on the Second City’s thriving club circuit and it was only a matter of time before at least one of them hit the top spot. It finally happened at the beginning of 1965, when The Moody Blues reached No.1 with their emotive cover of the Bessie Banks ball-buster, ‘Go Now’. Although it bears little relation to the lush, symphonic Rock the band would later become more renowned for, ‘Go Now’ is one of the key records of an era in which it seemed every week brought a new, exciting twist on the Beat Boom formula.

Almost exactly a year later, another band from Brum followed the Moodies to the top of the charts when The Spencer Davis Group reached the summit with their dynamic cover of Jackie Edwards’ ‘Keep on Running’. The band was led by the prodigiously-gifted teenage Steve Winwood, whose soulful vocals sounded like they came from a far older man, and a black one at that. The Spencer Davis Group managed to follow-up their chart-topping debut more successfully than The Moody Blues had, releasing a string of top-tenners (including another No.1) over the next twelve months until Winwood left to form the Psychedelic Pop act Traffic.

The last band to emerge from the Birmingham Beat Boom of the 60s were The Move, effectively a Brum ‘Supergroup’ comprising musicians who had all been members of successful local live acts; they scored their first hit at the beginning of 1967 with ‘Night of Fear’, a track built around the main melody of the 1812 Overture, and soon blossomed into one of the finest purveyors of the unique British take on Psychedelia; they also possessed a manager who specialised in PR stunts characteristic of the age, being sued by the Prime Minister when they used Harold Wilson in a controversial cartoon to promote ‘Flowers in the Rain’, the first single ever played on Radio 1. Their secret weapon was the songwriting genius of Roy Wood, a man whose contribution to British Pop is today unfairly restricted to his association with one of the perennial Christmas hits of the 70s; Wood deserves belated recognition as one of those rare, gifted musicians who can bang out a good tune on any instrument they stumble upon.

By the late 60s, the regional aspect of the British music scene, in which every major city’s bands were grouped together under one umbrella label, had essentially dissipated as most headed towards the capital for fame and fortune, losing their local identity in the process. Acts such as Chicken Shack – featuring future Fleetwood Mac member Christine Perfect – had a big hit without their Birmingham origins being a factor in their success, and Nick Drake hailing from the southern end of the Midlands, in Stratford-on-Avon, seemed incidental to his talent. Similarly, the fact that one half of Led Zeppelin comprised Midlands men (Robert Plant and John Bonham) had little bearing on their phenomenal success.

Hot on the heels of Led Zep’s radical reinvention of the Blues came Birmingham’s Black Sabbath, whose brutally brilliant approach to the genre laid the foundations for what was to become Heavy Metal, a musical style that had further Midlands exponents later in the 70s via Judas Priest. The top ten monster of ‘Paranoid’ aside, Sabbath’s success was album-based, whereas a band from a neighbouring neck of the woods (Wolverhampton and Walsall) went on to become Britain’s biggest singles act of the first half of the decade, Slade. Between 1971 and 1973, Noddy Holder, Jim Lea, Dave Hill and Don Powell hit the top of the charts on six separate occasions, more than any other home-grown act in the 70s.

Vying for the top spot with Slade in the early 70s were Wizzard, the colourful new outfit led by The Move’s Roy Wood and responsible for the aforementioned Xmas standard, ‘I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday’. Wizzard had appeared when Wood left the Move spin-off project, The Electric Light Orchestra, with whom he recorded one album; his sidekick in the band, Jeff Lynne, saw a long-term career in ELO and opted to take the helm before ironing out their experimental edges and honing them into one of the decade’s seminal singles acts. An immigrant from the West Indies who had made the West Midlands her home became the region’s main representative in the singer-songwriter genre, Joan Armatrading; hers wasn’t the only black voice in the neighbourhood, however, as Reggae act Steel Pulse proved. Birmingham also had a folk scene in the 70s, though the most notable graduate from it became better known as a comedian, Jasper Carrott.

No Punk band from the Midlands made much of an impression, but the post-Punk era was fruitful for the region, even if attention turned from the West Midlands to the East Midlands, when Coventry’s energetic hybrid of Punk and Jamaican Ska, reflecting the diverse melting pot of cultures courtesy of immigration, had a huge impact in the shape of the 2-Tone movement. The Specials were the front-runners, but Birmingham’s The Beat were also crucial to the scene; unrelated, but playing a similar blend of socially-conscious, mixed-race music (in the beginning, at least) were UB40. Concurrent with the rise of 2-Tone (and largely appealing to the same audience) were Dexy’s Midnight Runners, whose success was international rather than merely national. At the same time, Birmingham even spawned one of the few non-London mega-bands to emerge from the New Romantic movement, none other than Duran Duran; Birmingham also produced the short-lived (if briefly spectacular) career of Musical Youth.

By the end of the 80s, the likes of The Wonder Stuff, Ned’s Atomic Dustbin, Fuzzbox and Pop Will Eat Itself were Indie darlings and shortly crossed over to ‘Top of the Pops’, as did Brummies Ocean Colour Scene in the 90s, ensuring one of the country’s most overlooked musical hotbeds maintained a foothold in the charts. If one were to excise the Midlands from the UK’s Pop history, there would be some gaping holes in the story, so let’s acknowledge its role in that story. It’s quite a bostin’ one when all’s said and done.

© The Editor

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THE HUMAN TOUCH

A couple of days ago I walked into my local bank and saw a sign on the counter informing customers this particular branch would be closing in November. It’s been my ‘local’ for about fifteen years, and whilst I don’t use it as much as I once did (online banking, what can I say?), the fact it’s disappearing from a provincial high-street that, like most, would at one time have boasted perhaps half-a-dozen different banks says a good deal about…well…the here and now. The provincial high-street in question used to contain a variety of businesses that are now becoming increasingly rare sights – banks, post offices, gas showrooms, pubs, newsagents etc; but, as befitting a nation of fat bastards, there’s no shortage of places to eat there today. Every other shop seems to cater for the appetite.

Not so long ago, every financial transaction required interaction with another human being. If one needed to pay a bill or withdraw cash or receive some form of benefit, one had to visit a building and queue-up to enter into said transaction. There was no choice; everyone had to do it because that’s the way it was done. There wasn’t the generational divide that now exists – the one between those who are internet-literate and those over a certain age, who aren’t online and who are finding the transformation of every service into a virtual one a minefield of misunderstanding. Often, the latter are also reliant on public transport; the news that the closing branch of my local bank means any in-person dealings with it will now require a journey of several miles to the next nearest branch is symbolic of a change that arrogantly assumes everyone has one foot in cyberspace, when they don’t.

As far as banks go in the rapidly changing high-street landscape, the status of the branch’s top dog has been severely diminished. The bank manager, as with the GP or publican, was once a prominent figure within communities; he was the regular butt of jokes and a familiar presence on sitcoms, whereby characters would visit him in the hope of a loan, usually to be rebuffed. He was portrayed as pompous, somewhat self-important and authoritarian in a headmasterly manner. Lest we forget, Captain Mainwaring’s day-job was a bank manager. These days, the bank manager as a symbol of a certain kind of old-school British seniority has all-but vanished from the culture, along with the physical incarnation of the institution he represented.

When I started school at five, I recall every pupil being given a bank account and a little bankbook to go with it. This curious system wasn’t extended to any other school I attended, and there probably wasn’t much more than 50p in our respective accounts; but I remembered this quaint story the other day and realised the humble bankbook now seems poised to go the same way as the black & white TV set. I pay my rent at the bank and have my bankbook updated in the process, though ever since I started banking online I tend to check what’s gone in and what’s gone out that way rather than checking my bankbook. Yes, I’m as guilty as the next man.

The cash-machine has been with us far longer than we tend to imagine, with the first UK model appearing in 1967; ‘On the Buses’ star Reg Varney famously earned his place in history as the first person in this country to withdraw money from an ATM (at the Enfield branch of Barclays). But while this now commonplace sight may be fifty years old, it’s fair to say it didn’t acquire the omnipotence it possesses today until perhaps the 1990s, when it became far more abundant outside supermarkets as well as banks themselves; most still visited the bank to get their hands on their money. But the proliferation of cash-machines was the first pre-internet step in detaching customers from human contact.

There’s a mid-60s episode of ‘The Avengers’ in which a mad scientist played by Michael Gough is determined to make all businesses fully automated; the novelty of entering business premises in which human beings are absent and a card is required to open doors and access goods is evident in Steed’s reaction. But while Gough’s character may have been ahead of his time, the downside to his vision is that he has also created a race of robotic humanoids he calls Cybernauts to do the manual labour his business needs; this being ‘The Avengers’, these Cybernauts naturally do a good deal more than merely lifting boxes. However, when one bears in mind the episode aired at a time when the production lines of the nation’s motor industry were still dependent on men putting the hours in, it now looks extremely prescient.

The writing team on ‘The Avengers’ probably didn’t anticipate that automated industry would eventually stretch to so many areas of our future lives, but the onset of the internet has accelerated the transformation of society from the manual to the automated far more than even they could have guessed. Don’t get me wrong; cyber-shopping has made life a hell of a lot easier for me personally. I now buy the likes of CDs and DVDs more or less exclusively online, which is a Godsend because I hate shopping. When I think about it, though, it’s not so much shopping I detest as the places I’d have to do it in if I couldn’t do it online, such as ghastly malls. My aversion to crowds is a deterrent too; I now no longer have to enter that arena thanks to cyberspace, for which I am grateful.

For some transactions, however, the human touch remains something strangely reassuring, and the closure of a local bank branch is not dissimilar to another depressingly contemporary development, i.e. the closure of a local pub. The retirement of one’s GP, necessitating relocation to a ‘medical centre’ where one is shoved before a different doctor on each visit, thus preventing the development of a long-term relationship between GP and patient, is also characteristic of this trend. But, hey, that’s progress; we have to take the rough with the smooth. At the same time though, I can’t help but feel every replacement of a human with an anonymous internet transaction is reducing our contact with people even more and making us more isolated from each other in the process.

© The Editor

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THE FAG END OF HISTORY

I’m not too great with dates once we dispensed with the ‘nineteen’ prefix, but I can at least be confident that I attended my grandma’s funeral ten years ago this week, as the after-service pub gathering took place in her neighbourhood boozer just a couple of days following the introduction of the smoking ban, introduced on 1 July 2007. Never a regular frequenter of taverns, this was my first visit to one since the powers-that-be decreed not even ‘smoking rooms’ were permissible in the hostelries of Britain anymore. Had my grandmother been buried a week earlier, I wouldn’t have spent half my time during the post-funeral bash constantly stepping outdoors.

Mind you, as was to become a recurring pattern over the coming decade, allegiances amongst the new social outcasts were forged as I ended up getting into fascinating conversations with distant relatives I’d never met before, conversations I probably wouldn’t have had if I’d stayed indoors with more immediate and familiar family members. At the same time, had the pub in question been able to divide its bars into smoking and non-smoking ones (as had been commonplace prior to the ban), no doubt the same conversations would have been entered into. The pub is now closed, by the way, having gone the way of many in the last ten years.

A friend of mine had returned from a trip to the States in the early 2000s and had told me of attending a jazz club in New York after the Big Apple’s own indoor smoking ban had been brought in, which had come into effect as of 2003. For him, the anticlimax of being in that kind of environment with such a crucial element to the ambience absent seemed an extreme extension of American Political Correctness; little did he know the same would apply in his home country just four years later. At the time, it was unimaginable that a traditional freedom for all over-16 was poised to be curtailed thanks to the relentless pressure of the powerful anti-smoking lobby.

Smoking bans may seem a relatively recent encroachment upon individual civil liberties, though if we overlook James I’s anti-tobacco rant of 1604, we have Nazi Germany to thank for the first attempt in modern history to impose the kind of restrictions on tobacco usage we’d find familiar today. Another plus point to add to Hitler’s blotted copybook along with the autobahns, no doubt. Post-war, many of the countries that sourced this neglected aspect of the Nazi master-plan did so gradually and in line with a growing awareness of the link between cigarettes and cancer. Initially, however, restrictions on public spaces arose in areas in which there was a proven fire risk, though the discouragement of smoking became more widespread through bans on television cigarette advertising. The last ad for cigs was screened on UK TV as far back as 1965, though such a ban was made a mockery of for decades with the continued sponsorship of sporting contests by tobacco companies.

Despite several American states passing laws that segregated smokers and non-smokers in places such as bars and restaurants in the 1970s and 80s, the increasing clout of the anti-tobacco lobby and the spreading cult of health and fitness enabled said lobby to press for more extreme measures. Surprisingly, however, Peru was the first country to impose an outright ban on smoking in all enclosed public places, setting a potent precedent in 1993. Bit by bit, as the 20th century approached its end, greater restrictions on smokers were gathering pace that would snowball come the Millennium.

In 2003, both India and New Zealand outlawed smoking in schools and workplaces, whereas, a little closer to home, Ireland followed suit in 2004; that same year, Bhutan achieved the undeniable ambition of the anti-smoking lobby by banning tobacco altogether, effectively placing it in the same category as all narcotics. As more countries have appeased those who had long complained of ‘passive smoking’ in public areas, however, even that is clearly insufficient legislation for the most fanatical anti-smokers, who probably won’t be content until the blueprint of Bhutan is adopted worldwide.

Even as a committed smoker, I fully understand the objections of those who demanded and have subsequently approved of indoor smoking bans; but the problem seems to be that no restrictions are ever enough for those with the power to impose them. The ridiculous need to persistently punish smokers, as reflected in the most recent ‘innovation’ of hiding cigarettes behind cupboard doors in newsagents and supermarkets (let alone the removal of branding from packets), are characteristic of a conscious programme to marginalise a section of society whose rights are diminishing with each new law. It is ironic that in a day and age in which every minority – whether that minority status arises from race, faith or sexually – is catered for and pandered to, the smoker is fair game for a legislative kicking, the whipping boy of the nanny state.

The way in which a proven healthy alternative such as vaping has been banned from public places in record time proves health concerns are (pardon the inevitable pun) a convenient smokescreen for the anti-smoking lobby, whose prohibitionist agenda has been exposed as a consequence. In 1859, John Stuart-Mill wrote ‘The only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilised community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others’. Vaping doesn’t harm those who don’t vape; the vapours evaporate in a matter of seconds and don’t linger either as an odour or a health hazard; so why is it bracketed along with actual tobacco as a social evil? I appreciate smoking is, and always will be, a divisive issue; but ten years after a long-held objective of non-smokers was achieved, enough is enough.

© The Editor

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THE SWINGEING SIXTIES

A couple of anniversaries worth marking, I thought; a regular feature of this here blog, but always a welcome break from contemporary concerns, what with most of them being pretty grim. Today marks a decade since the UK smoking ban came into force; but firstly, fifty years ago today, the Times published an editorial that remains one of the few (if indeed the only one ever) to impact considerably on pop culture, as well as marking a significant turning point in the Us and Them battle that divided young and old in mid-60s Britain. The emergence of Teddy Boys, Rock ‘n’ Roll, Beatlemania and Mods Vs Rockers all gave rise to the belief amongst the generations that had fought in two World Wars and then ran the country that the country was falling apart at the seams.

None invoked such Blimp-ish rage in establishment circles as those shaggy-haired scruffs The Rolling Stones; their appearance alone was deemed offensive enough, but the thought that these 12-bar wonders might have any kind of influence over the young beyond simply cajoling them into buying their records seemed symbolic of the decline and fall of western civilisation. Things got worse as the Stones began to adopt a more erudite, cultured persona when the arty influence of girlfriends like Marianne Faithfull and Anita Pallenberg stretched their ambitions and aspirations beyond merely recycling the Blues. They appeared to be encroaching into the Highbrow, which was bad enough; and then they began extolling the virtues of chemical mind-expansion, something previously reserved for revered (and safely dead) intellectuals like Aldous Huxley.

Fining the band for peeing against a garage wall when the petrol pump attendant refused them access the loos was one thing; but in order to stop this repulsive revolution in its tracks, there needed to be something bigger that could bring about the desired effect. In 1967, the opportunity presented itself and the cohabitating coterie of press, police and judiciary seized upon it. The loose lips of Brian Jones in a London club, unknowingly endorsing LSD to an undercover journalist, led to said Stone being mistakenly identified in print as Mick Jagger; Jagger sued the News of the World but, like Oscar Wilde’s legal action against the Marquess of Queensbury, this response then provoked the enemy into making its move, which it did a week later.

The raid on Keith Richards’ Redlands home, interrupting the aftermath of a ‘drugs party’, has long been woven into both Stones and Rock mythology – with poor Marianne Faithfull still dogged by the utterly fabricated ‘Mars Bar’ rumour; but the outcome for Mick and Keith at the time wasn’t quite so entertaining, the former charged with possession of four amphetamine tablets and the latter with allowing cannabis to be smoked on his property. They were tried at the Chichester Assizes in June 1967 and were both found guilty, with Jagger sentenced to three months’ imprisonment and Richards to a year. They both immediately launched appeals and were released on bail after a night behind bars.

The severity of the sentences and the dubious collusion between Scotland Yard and the News of the World raised many questions. The Stones’ contemporaries reacted with a show of support, with The Who rush-releasing cover versions of ‘Under My Thumb’ and ‘The Last Time’ as a single; but the most unexpected show of support came not from Us, but Them. Sensing an injustice had been done simply to teach these loutish upstarts a lesson, none other than William Rees-Mogg (yes, father of Jacob) intervened. Rees-Mogg was the editor of the Times – viewed as a bastion of the same establishment intent on persecution and punishment where the Swinging 60s were concerned – and he made an eloquent, passionate plea in the Times’ editorial on 1 July 1967, under the title ‘Who breaks a butterfly on a wheel?’

‘If we are going to make any case a symbol of the conflict between the sound traditional values of Britain and the new hedonism,’ wrote Rees-Mogg, ‘then we must be sure that the sound traditional values include those of tolerance and equity. It should be the particular quality of British justice to ensure that Mr Jagger is treated exactly the same as anyone else, no better and no worse. There must remain a suspicion in this case that Mr Jagger received a more severe sentence than would have been thought proper for any purely anonymous young man.’

Coupled with the widespread outrage amongst the young over the sentences, the Times editorial prompted the authorities to bring the appeal hearings forward and a month after being sentenced, the sentences were quashed. Mick and Keith walked away from court free men again and Jagger was more or less immediately flown by a helicopter hired by ambitious Granada producer John Birt to take part in a special ‘World in Action’ debate with three members of the establishment (chaired by Rees-Mogg), who seemed to look upon Jagger as elderly scientists would look upon a fascinating new species of butterfly. But Jagger’s easy-on-the-ear middle-class accent and reassuring, unthreatening demeanour charmed both his inquisitors and the television audience.

The intervention of William Rees-Mogg and the belated realisation by the Great British Public that maybe these demonised heroes of the young weren’t quite as great a threat to the future of mankind as the atom bomb marked a sea-change in the way the transforming society was perceived by its elder statesmen. The same year as the cause célèbre of the Mick & Keith trial, homosexual acts between consenting adults in private were decriminalised, abortion was legalised, and ‘Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’ was embraced by young and old alike as Art. The affair also gifted Keith Richards, previously overshadowed in the media spotlight by Jagger and Brian Jones, the outlaw image he’s maintained ever since as the ‘soul’ of the band. There were casualties, however.

Brian Jones, targeted by the drugs squad in a separate raid and increasingly isolated within the band, embarked upon a rapid downward slide that culminated in his mysterious premature death two years later; Marianne Faithfull, denounced from the pulpit as a harlot and mercilessly mocked over the Mars Bar myth, then embarked upon her own downward slide that led all the way to being a homeless heroin addict in the 70s. But the Times stepping back from the great divide to look at it with objective sagacity was the first step towards acceptance of youth culture as a valid and relevant force within society by those too old to participate. Bar the odd moral panic over Punk Rock and Acid House, it has been recognised as such ever since, as thousands of books, documentaries and humble little articles such as this will testify.

© The Editor

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A SOLID BOND IN YOUR HEART

Cheers and laughter greeting the survival of the Government’s public sector pay cap, emanating from the fat, affluent arses settled on the Tory benches, doesn’t exactly make one feel proud to be British. The PM’s praise of how the emergency services performed in the recent disasters to have befallen the country has a hollow ring to it when a magic money tree can buy DUP support but can’t provide a pay rise for those dealing with the disasters on the front-line. More than that, though, it was the absence of both dignity and humility on the winning side as the result of the vote was announced, receiving the news in a manner that implied delight in the misfortune of others, something that serves to reinforce the low opinion so many have of Parliament.

However, when confronted by such an ugly and unedifying spectacle, it’s worth remembering that there are some out there who illuminate our parade rather than rain on it, some who exist to bring pleasure into our lives rather than maintain misery. One such person was Michael Bond, whose death at the age of 91 was announced yesterday. Bond was the author of the Paddington Bear books and also the producer of the memorable animated Paddington series that once curtailed the daily children’s TV schedule on BBC1 before the real world elbowed its way into the picture again via the news. I have to admit the version of the theme tune accompanying the closing credits still induces a sadness that ‘my telly’ is over for another day, even though it’s been over for decades.

Like his illustrious bear predecessors Winnie the Pooh and Rupert, Paddington is an anthropomorphised creature, and in his distinctive hat and duffle coat stands as one of the most recognisable characters in children’s literature; personality-wise, he is (to use a much-derided word) nice. His charming, child-like inquisitiveness with the world he arrives in from Darkest Peru often lands him in trouble and creates trouble for those around him, but he is an innocent abroad and his kindly nature, coupled with his very English politeness, makes him impossible not to warm to. Provide him with enough marmalade sandwiches and he’ll be your friend for life.

The first of the Paddington books appeared in 1958 and the last just three years ago. I first became aware of the character, though, via the short stories that for many years appeared in the annual ‘Blue Peter’ book. Then, of course, there was the original Film Fair series that debuted in 1975, bringing the loveable bear to a wider audience than ever. Seven years previously, Michael Bond had created another immortal animated series also produced by Film Fair for BBC1, ‘The Herbs’. With each character named after an actual herb, the likes of Parsley the lion and Dill the dog still immediately re-enter my head when browsing the herbs and spices shelves at Sainsbury’s, which I suppose is testament to the impact the series had on an impressionable infant imagination.

As animals, bears seem uniquely enduring as children’s characters, stretching all the way back to the trio that found Goldilocks in their abode; perhaps the connection with teddy bears is important. If we’re lucky enough, a teddy will be our first bedtime companion, and I guess it was to be expected that this bond would be played upon by authors. The aforementioned and long-running success of both Pooh and Rupert no doubt gave Paddington’s creator the idea he’d probably be onto a winner if he added another bear to the animal farm of children’s fiction and he was right. Paddington’s ongoing popularity led to a successful animated movie in 2014; a sequel is scheduled to be released this year. There’s even a statue of him at the London station from which he took his name.

The 1970s TV series was narrated by Michael Horden, whose marvellous rich voice was one of many in a long line of inspired choices to narrate children’s series during this era. Another was Brian Cant, whose death last week I marked in a post; his narration covered the entire ‘Trumptonshire Trilogy’, which had a longer run on television than even Cant’s lengthy stint on camera in both ‘Play School’ and ‘Play Away’. Michael Bond’s creation was more well-known than the creator himself, but his death, coming so soon after the death of Cant and of John Noakes, is one more sobering reminder of time passing. Happily, all three lived to a ripe old age and the magic they wove stays with those of us for whom it was pivotal to our formative years.

The mood of the moment sometimes appears to be so relentlessly bleak that when someone leaves us whose contribution was joyous and made us smile, it’s inevitable we feel sad at their departure. When the nasty, unpleasant and hate-fuelled seem to have the biggest platform of all, it’s only natural we celebrate a benign legacy and mourn the loss of that legacy’s creator. We could do with a few more of them, and a little less of the other.

© The Editor

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THE LAST WALTZ

A few weeks ago I marked the half-century of ‘Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’ in a post intended as a little nostalgic interlude from the contemporary doom ‘n’ gloom that has invariably continued to dominate posts ever since. Although I’m not adhering to precise dates, another landmark album – albeit one that characterised the ‘post-Rock’ age we still reside in – also appeared in the month of June, thirty years after The Beatles’ magnum opus and twenty years away from today, Radiohead’s ‘OK Computer’. The media may have neglected to mark the occasion, but in many respects, ‘OK Computer’ is the landmark album the media doesn’t like to talk about. I’d almost forgotten two decades had elapsed since its release, for it still sounds like the soundtrack to the here and now.

Where ‘Sgt Pepper’s’ marked the optimistic maturity of a new musical form that had come on in adventurous leaps and bounds over a brief period of four years, ‘OK Computer’ carried the history of the generation raised in the shadow of the 60s on its weary shoulders and tried to look forward in the process; what it saw ahead of it wasn’t exactly cause for celebration. Yet, appearing as it did at the fag-end of ‘Cool Britannia’ and barely a month after New Labour were elected into office, the album marked the decisive end of a period of false hope by anticipating not only the corrupt charade of Blair and the mass hysteria of Diana’s death, but essentially the mood of the century we’re lumbered with.

The two years leading up to the release of ‘OK Computer’ had been a curious albeit conscious diversion from the grim alternative of Grunge, which had culminated in the suicide of its most articulate and charismatic spokesman. Oasis wanted to ‘Live Forever’ and Blur wanted to escape into an imaginary musical universe where Madness starred in ‘Help!’ instead of the Fab Four. It was fun, frivolous and a breath of fresh air whereby bands once destined for the Indie ghetto temporarily usurped the tedious test-tube boy-bands at the top of the charts. Yet even when Britpop was dominant, Radiohead were striking a more dissonant chord with 1995’s ‘The Bends’, a stunningly brilliant album that had combined critical acclaim with commercial success without conceding to the prevailing trends. Two years later, when Liam, Noel, Damon and Jarvis were unlikely tabloid darlings, Radiohead re-emerged with a record that both caught the mood of the moment and predicted what was to come.

I purchased ‘OK Computer’ on the day of its release, given an inkling of what to expect by the trailer of ‘Paranoid Android’, a bizarre beast of a single that bore more relation to ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ than ‘Wonderwall’, though the LP still surprised me when the needle touched down on the vinyl. At the time, I was living in a crack-den-cum-brothel that wasn’t exactly the ‘Country House’ Blur had sarcastically sung the praises of in a promo video reminiscent of a Benny Hill sketch; if ever an album said (to turn Morrissey’s lyrical quote on its head) something to me about my life, ‘OK Computer’ seemed to more than any other in 1997. Things couldn’t only get better – not for the moment, anyhow.

Whilst the mass media’s eyes were focused on the narcissistic vacuum of Oasis’ ‘Be Here Now’, Radiohead sneaked under the mainstream radar with a record that was less about wallowing in a self-indulgent, coke-fuelled cul-de-sac as it was about the morning after the Britpop party. It pre-dated the NME’s calling out of Blair with its ‘Ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated?’ cover and mirrored the sudden change in mood heralded by Blur’s inspired retreat into lo-fi darkness with their eponymous fifth album and then reiterated by the bleak grandiosity of The Verve’s ‘Urban Hymns’. Greeted with more or less unanimous critical praise upon release, ‘OK Computer’ shot straight to the top of the UK LP charts and soundtracked what proved to be a strange summer.

Lazy summaries of Radiohead as a band (ones that continue to dog them) appear to have their foundations in ‘OK Computer’, which is perceived as a depressing album in a late Pink Floyd vein, usually by those who haven’t actually heard it. Most of the music on it is staggeringly beautiful, but in a challenging manner that demands the listener re-evaluates their concept of beauty. ‘No Surprises’ echoes the sweetness and light of The Beach Boys’ ‘Wouldn’t it Be Nice’ but retains the melancholic undercurrent that runs through the album, whereas ‘Karma Police’ borrows a chord sequence from The Beatles’ ‘Sexy Sadie’, reinforcing the fact that the British music scene of the mid-90s had bypassed a revival of Psychedelia and had gone straight to the less joyous landscape of ‘the White Album’.

The overriding theme of ‘OK Computer’ is one of disillusionment, something that registered as much with me while I staggered through the dying months of my 20s as it did the generation behind me, who were about to be dropped like a stone by the new government they’d been wooed by that spring. It taps into the paranoia and fear of the future that surfaced as the Millennium edged closer on the horizon and does so with a musical tapestry that is rooted in the familiar whilst simultaneously stretching to develop a new narrative for a form weighed down by its illustrious past. The cold detachment of the Stephen Hawkin-like electronic vocal on ‘Fitter Happier’ chimes with the lyrical content of the record, which seems to second-guess the isolating impact of the internet as well as the impending collapse of corporate globalisation. ‘OK Computer’ may have been of its time, but it was also ahead of its time; it’s arguable no act since its release has commented on the present as effectively as Radiohead managed before that present had even arrived.

Radiohead’s performance at Glastonbury the summer of the album’s release was probably one of the last occasions in which the festival was headlined by a band at the peak of their creative powers, marking the end of an era in more ways than one. One could even go as far as to say ‘OK Computer’ was the last time a contemporary band tuned a cracked mirror on its era and reflected that era back at its audience. Like The Beatles and Bowie before them, Radiohead looked beyond the limitations of their peers operating in the same genre and tried to incorporate elements of other genres, in Radiohead’s case the electronica of DJ Shadow and the trip-hop of Portishead. The end result may have sounded like neither influence, but ended up as a unique hybrid of both blended with more formulaic Rock insignias. Who has even attempted that since?

It wasn’t twenty years ago today that Sgt Yorke told his band to play, but it’s near enough; at the same time, it’s a long time ago. And I find that fact increasingly hard to believe; but then, I’m old enough to have been there. And it amazes me more that I’m still here to state that fact, for I certainly didn’t think I would be in 1997. But I doubt Sgt Yorke thought his band would be either. It turns out there were surprises, after all.

© The Editor

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A REPEAT PERFORMANCE

The old complaint always used to be that there were too many repeats on television; but I suppose it depended on what was being repeated. A classic BBC series such as ‘The Forsyte Saga’ benefitted from being repeated, with the programme and the audience joint beneficiaries. It earned its household name popularity when receiving a repeat run on BBC1 in 1968, having originally been screened on BBC2 the year before. At the time, the majority of the country’s viewers couldn’t receive the Beeb’s second channel on their ageing 405-line sets, so it was a shrewd move by BBC1, intended to justify the considerable expense spent on the serial. One is made aware of just how poor the image quality must have been on those 60s tellies when watching ‘The Forsyte Saga’ on DVD today; some of the makeup used to age the actors doesn’t necessarily bear up to digital scrutiny.

Glancing through musty copies of the Radio Times from the early 70s, it’s surprising how few repeats there actually are in the listings, something that contradicts the complaints about repeats even then. It’s worth bearing in mind, however, that complicated Equity rules regarding repeat fees throughout the 70s effectively limited how many programmes could actually be repeated; moreover, there was a gradual reluctance to rerun monochrome programmes from the 60s when the BBC and ITV were forever extolling the superior delights of colour television. And, lest we forget, the standard practice of wiping shows not long after their initial broadcast precluded them being seen again, anyway. Television had been, for most of its life, a transient medium that existed very much in the present; but that was about to change.

By the mid-70s, television had been around long enough to begin developing a sense of its own history, and the first wave of TV anniversary shows, such as the BBC’s ‘Forty Years’ in 1976, belatedly awakened the compilers of programmes reliant on archive material just how poorly-served the archives were. Added to this, there was an increasing interest in the back catalogues of long-running series like ‘Doctor Who’; even if there was no real medium available for the commercial release of the series’ archive, the salvaging of old episodes poised to be incinerated began in earnest during this period.

The arrival of Channel 4 in 1982 not only ushered in a fresh age of edgy broadcasting reflecting the here and now; it also revived several series that hadn’t had a decent repeat run in years, though the approach of this new kid on the broadcasting block to television’s heritage was as different to the regional ITV companies’ repeat policies as a charity shop is from a vintage one. The likes of ‘The Avengers’, ‘The Prisoner’, ‘Budgie’ and ‘Callan’ weren’t hidden away in the twilight hours, but given prime-time slots and elevated to the status of classics. Enough time had now passed since their first broadcasts to warrant the label.

The growth in the home video market from the early 80s onwards was initially focused on the produce of the movie industry, but television soon realised the potential too. VCRs sent many broadcasters scuttling in the direction of their depleted archives, hoping they could find the odd episode of a once-beloved series to stick out on VHS for twenty quid. Even if the rare case of a series preserved in its entirety meant it could have received a full video release, tapes were extremely expensive to buy at the time and could usually only hold a couple of episodes of anything at most. Many favourite series I now own in full on DVD were ones I just had a few episodes of on VHS releases for years; and in a lot of cases, the complete series on DVD cost about the same as two episodes on one tape would have cost me twenty-five years ago. Not all progress is bad.

The deregulation of TV in the wake of the 1990 Broadcasting Act meant there were many more channels suddenly available, though with numerous hours to fill, the cheapest way of filling them was to repeat old programmes. Yet, this also nicely chimed with an upsurge in nostalgia amongst 30-somethings for childhood shows; and when the more obvious and best-remembered of these finished their runs, one intriguing side-effect was that channels such as UK Gold and Granada Plus were then forced to excavate programmes that, in some cases, hadn’t been seen on British television for twenty years or more. Mid-90s off-air recordings of these can still sometimes surface on YouTube.

The arrival of the DVD and the innovation of the box-set finally took the decision of what old shows would or wouldn’t be repeated out of the hands of the broadcasters and did what even the VHS failed to do – it enabled fans to own the complete series of a favourite programme at a reasonable price, and usually (when old prints were digitally cleaned-up) in a better condition than even when they’d first been transmitted on TV. Companies like Simply Media, Acorn, 2 entertain and, best of all, Network have ploughed a similar path to the oldies channels of the 90s by following the release of the best-remembered series with the availability of the half-remembered and the near-forgotten; the half-remembered and the near-forgotten, however, are often worth investing in if one is interested in archive TV, as they regularly throw up pleasant surprises.

Whilst the advent of Netflix and other similar systems are now being heralded as not only the end of old-style appointment TV on terrestrial channels but as the end of the DVD box-set as well, when it comes to archive television it would seem the DVD is still its most fitting home. Yes, it may also be its retirement home; but opting out of television’s endless peak-time talent contests by escaping into a parallel universe of personal choice is the same as rejecting the radio and sticking the music on that you want to hear rather than the music someone else is shoving down your throat. At the moment, I’m back with Edward Woodward and his hygienically-challenged sidekick Lonely as they slip in and out of their shadowy and seedy, vanished 70s landscape of Cold War wallpaper. And in 2017, there’s nowhere else I’d rather be.

© The Editor

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